A Week for Honoring Mothers, Day 1: Paid Leave Policies

This Sunday the United States celebrates Mother’s Day, but there is more to celebrating mothers than cards and flowers. Mother’s Day has its roots in activism and advocacy. It was born out of the work of women to mend the national and familial wounds of the Civil War, their calls for international disarmament, support for the temperance movement, and women’s suffrage. It was more than a celebration of their role as mothers, it was a time for them to call out for changes they hoped would make a better future for them and their children.

It’s in the joint spirit of celebration and action that For Our Babies honors mothers, shares their stories, and discusses their needs this week.

(Don’t worry, dads, it’ll be your turn next month.)

Last month in this blog, I talked about how paid family leave can benefit a baby’s development by giving them a stable environment and a stronger parent-child bond, but the impact of paid family leave reaches so much further.

Studies have shown that paid time can lead to improved long-term health and well-being for mothers just as much as for their babies, allowing them time to recover from childbirth and adjust to motherhood and improving the likelihood they’ll be able to remain in the workforce and achieve higher earning potential. Flexible family leave, that which allows fathers to take time away from work as well, can also help ease the physical and emotional postpartum strain that mothers face. Additionally, paid leave gives families greater economic security, without which new mothers often have to make difficult decisions such as returning to work before they are ready or applying for supplemental government support to close the gap left by the loss of income.

Despite knowing the impact that paid leave can have, there are still very few states with strong policies in place and it is not a standard employer-offered benefit, making paid leave unavailable to the majority of American families, especially low-income families. Can we honor mothers and improve their lives by creating strong policy support for paid family leave? Linda Houser and Thomas Vartanian argue that we can.

In Policy Matters: Public Policy, Paid Leave for New Parents, and Economic Security for U.S. Workers, a new report from the Center for Women and Work, they make the case for stronger policy support by examining how various state-level leave programs impact decisions regarding which parent(s) take leave, how long they can remain on leave, and whether or not they require supplemental support. Their findings show that both mothers and fathers are more likely to take extended leave when state-level policies support them in doing so, and mothers who have paid leave available are less likely to require supplemental support in the year following their child’s birth. Because of the wide range of assumptions that exist about paid leave, Houser and Vartanian make special note that efforts to expand supportive policies will need to include public education campaigns to raise awareness of the programs and reduce cultural stigmas related to leave-taking for caregiving.

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